Don’t Forget .410 Shot Shells as Other Calibers Dry Up

The breech-loaded .410 shotgun used for the tests along with the targets and ammo.

U.S.A. -( In what seems like a world gone mad, gun shops have been doing non-stop business since early March with the Coronavirus pandemic causing panic buying of everything from toilet paper to dog food in some places and not the least of all, guns. In a rush for people to be able to defend themselves, gun shops, those that could remain open anyway in places where they’re considered essential, have been routinely selling out of not only guns but also ammunition, with shotguns being one of the hottest sellers. Here locally in New York, shotguns are in short supply and even shorter supply is any form of defense loads like buckshot for the most common calibers like 12 and 20 gauge. These buyers, many of them first time buyers, may have overlooked what has often been staring them right in the face but has been looked down on, and that’s the lowly .410 shotgun.

More often than not the .410 shotgun has been described as a kid’s gun or the squirrel hunter’s choice for the experienced hunter who has no issues with hunting with the smaller caliber, but over the last decade, the .410 has been emerging as more than just a hunting gun with more defensive loads coming out all the time that are anything but kid’s play.

I thought of the .410 when I was in a local gun shop a few weeks ago when the pandemic first began and a woman came in with her son and she was bound and determined to buy a shotgun, and only a 12 gauge would do. She had never fired a gun before in her life, and she was a very short, petite middle-aged woman who when she even tried to shoulder a full-size shotgun, could barely reach the slide let alone work it. The shop owner and I told her that a .410 shotgun would be something maybe for her to look into since it would not only fit her better but being she had never fired a gun before, 12-gauge rounds might be a bit punishing. She kept saying that her husband had told her to get a 12 gauge and only a 12 gauge because anything less than that wasn’t worth much.

I have never understood the thinking that “only” a 12 gauge will do when it comes to personal defense in the mindset of some shooters, what they fail to realize is that the same 00 buckshot loads that come out of their 12 gauge are the same size as those that come out of a .410, there is just fewer of them. A 2 ½” load of four 000 shotgun pellets from a .410 shotgun will certainly do the job, it just doesn’t have the machismo of it’s bigger brother, the 12 gauge.

I recently took a pair of .410 shotguns to the range, one a Midland Arms Backpack and the other a Mossberg Shockwave, to see how they perform with some defense loads. The Midland Arms Backpack is perhaps the simplest and easiest gun to use right now for some of these new shooters out there who have never fired a gun of any kind, let alone a shotgun. In .410 you can get it in either the 18.5” or 22” modified choke barrel lengths, with the simple break-open action that has a cocking indicator, and comes with spacers to adjust the length of pull from 12.5” to 14.5” with the extra spacers added. The Backpack also folds up quite well and can be carried or stored in small places or a vehicle quite well and weighs less than five pounds.

Breach-loading shotguns are very simple, and those with only a single barrel are normally very affordable.

Another real advantage of the .410 is the very light recoil, something that takes getting used to in a 12 gauge and can be downright unpleasant to those not used to it. I found the .410 Backpack to be a joy to shoot, and it can be shot for many rounds without the pain and discomfort of shooting a 12 gauge with buckshot or slug loads.

I started with the Backpack and some Remington Home Defense 2 ½” 00 buckshot loads. These loads have four 00 pellets and are advertised at 1,300 fps. Out of the short 18.5” barrel of the Midland Arms I was using, at 7 yards the pellets stayed in a tight cluster that you could easily cover with a half-dollar. At 10 yards the pellets opened up more, but no more than a four-inch group. As is typical with any .410, even with these defense loads, the Backpack was mild, to say the least.

What a difference three yards can make!

I then tried out some Winchester 2 ½” 1/5-ounce slugs. These slugs translate into 87 grains roughly. While that doesn’t sound like much, a 90 grain .380 ACP round on average is traveling at 1,000 to 1,100 fps, these slugs are advertised as 1,830 fps. To put things in perspective, a 135-grain JHP in 10mm from DoubleTap Ammunition is advertised at 1,600 fps. To say a .410 slug is akin to kids’ play can’t be further from the truth.

Winchester Super X .410 slug grouping at 25 yards.

At 25 yards from the Midland Arms Backpack kept a tight group offhand, well under four inches, and again, recoil wasn’t even really noticeable, certainly something that a beginning shooter could handle. To round it all out, I even tried out a Remington 2 ½” #6 game load at 25 yards. While not what I would recommend for personal defense, in some places game loads are all anyone can find, although .410 defensive loads are what I have been able to find the most of since this all began. Before I started writing this, I looked to see how easily I could get a Midland Arms Backpack if I wanted to find one. I had no problem locating one online at pretty much all the major websites, so I would think you could have your dealer order one. They won’t break your bank either, they tend to cost right around $150 for a real-world price.

Remington’s #6 shot expands massively at 25 yards.

I then moved on to the Mossberg Shockwave. I bought the Shockwave in .410 because an injury going on ten years ago has kept from really messing with more powerful pump-action shotguns, especially 12 gauge. The .410 Shockwave is ideal for those who can’t handle the heavier recoil of the larger guns, especially for someone who has never used a shotgun before.

Mossberg’s Modle 500 Shockwave is incredibly soft-shooting when chambered in .410.

I tried out a variety of ammunition, the first being Winchester’s PDX1, I tried the 2 ½” version, which has three plated disks followed up with 12 BB size pellets that are advertised at 750 fps. At 7 yards, I got a fairly wide pattern, with the three disks making a tight group, but I only counted six of the BB pellets, so the pattern could be even wider, something to consider if you want to use it for inside a home or apartment. The 3-inch version of the PDX1 has four plated discs and 16 BB pellets.

Winchester’s PDX-1 is an interesting load that combines three small disc slugs with six pellets.

Next up was the Hornady Critical Defense 2 ½” shell, which consists of a .41 caliber FTX slug backed by two .35 caliber round balls behind it. It’s also advertised at a muzzle velocity of 750 fps, and at 7 yards gave me a nice tight group from the Shockwave’s 14-inch barrel of about two inches. This would be ideal for a personal defense load, much closer together than the PDX1.

At seven yards, the .410 is truly devastating. Look at this tight group of Hornady’s Critical Defense load.

I brought out an old favorite, some Federal Premium Defense 2 ½” 000 buckshot. These shells hold four 000 pellets, which doesn’t sound like much compared to a 12-gauge holding eight or more. Trust me when I say that the .410 round is no pushover. At 850 fps, the group at 7 yards had all four pellets touching one another in a group you couldn’t get much tighter. I patterned it with a second shot and got the same result. You couldn’t ask for any better.

.410 might lack the power of its 12-gauge big brother, but is still incredibly effective at close range.

I closed out with testing out some Winchester 2 ½” rifled slugs. At 10 yards, considering this isn’t the easiest gun to aim precisely it does put them on target if you take your time. Unlike the larger 12 and 20 gauges, you don’t have to worry about getting smacked in the teeth by the grip of this gun by looking down the barrel and having it away from your face when firing the .410 Shockwave.

Many mistake the .410 slug as ‘only’ as powerful as a .45LC round, but in actuality, their terminal ballistics are much more impressive.

Right now the Shockwave in any variation might be the tougher of these two guns to find, but I can get and even see other .410 shotguns that would work just fine for personal defense. Henry’s .410 lever action or even a Stoeger Coach gun would work and are still able to be had readily on various online businesses I checked before writing this. As far as ammunition, my local gun shops have a variety of .410 personal defense ammo and have kept it in stock since the gun and ammo buying turned into a frenzy, something that can’t be said about either 12 or 20 gauge.

Don’t overlook the .410 shotgun for personal defense, especially if you are a new gun owner. Right now times are crazy and stressful and people can’t even get out to shoot as much as they should even if they wanted to, having a shotgun for personal defense is fine, but you need to get something you can shoot, and the .410 covers a lot of gaps, especially with no end in sight to this nonsense and not knowing how much worse it can get, shouldn’t you try to get a gun you can find ammo for?

About David LaPellDavid LaPell

David LaPell has been a Corrections Officer with the local Sheriff’s Department for thirteen years. A collector of antique and vintage firearms for over twenty years and an avid hunter. David has been writing articles about firearms, hunting, and western history for ten years. In addition to having a passion for vintage guns, he is also a fan of old trucks and has written articles on those as well.